“We're in the technology adolescence. Technology will get easier,” reassured keynote speaker and CMI columnist Corbin Ball at the third annual Meeting Visions conference, held in December in Wailea, Maui. Ball was addressing a small crowd of experienced meeting executives who had gathered to hear about the latest in meeting technology and share their questions and challenges as they implement online registration and meeting consolidation, integrate e-meetings into their company cultures, and search for the latest and greatest in meeting tech tools.
Drawing high-level planners from leading companies such as Cisco, Nortel, AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and Amgen, the conference had the feel of both a hardworking executive retreat and — considering the amazing destination and the quality of the evening hospitality — a well-run fam trip (with its heart and spirit resolutely in the former camp).
Ball launched the conference discussing global technology trends, emphasizing the transformation of the Internet from an overwhelmingly U.S. phenomenon to an increasingly global resource. Among the evidence he cited:
Two years ago, half of the world's Internet users were in the U.S. and Canada; today that's down to a third.
In 1995, less than half of 1 percent of the world's population had Internet access; today it's 9.57 percent.
Ball noted that since the travel and tourism industry is already the largest seller of products and services on the Internet, the repercussions for meetings are also likely to be intense. “Hire [new people] who have an outside-the-box attitude,” advised Ball. “The next 10 years will see more drastic change than the last.”
Ball expects wireless access to come on strong in the next couple of years, with airports, hotels, and convention centers among the leaders in its proliferation. “I think we're entering the golden age of wireless access,” he said. “This changes fundamentally the ways we can communicate as meeting planners.”
Virtual Audience, Too
Meeting Visions attendees participated firsthand in one tech trend: webconferencing. Demonstrating how e-meetings can be integrated into live events, Stephanie Franks, founder of ConferZone.com, (who was at the conference) moderated a virtual panel of e-conferencing experts: Mark Church, director of online events, InterCall, Boulder, Colo.; Stuart Sonnenfeldt, vice president business development, WebEx Communications, San Jose, Calif.; and WebEx client Kristin Streett, senior marketing manager with Financial Engines in Palo Alto, Calif. The audience, which included the Maui participants as well as a dozen online attendees, heard Streett's story of going from 10 live roundtable events to two budget-cutting WebEx events per quarter, and then had a chance to ask questions of the virtual panel. Easily proving that a panel can be lively even when not in the room, the Q&A session covered archiving, backup, and speaker , among other webconferencing issues.
Audioconferencing technology was also used to bring John Pino to a panel on consolidation. Pino, CEO of StarCite in Philadelphia, phoned in to join moderator Rod Marymor, CEO of Cardinal Communications, Berkeley, Calif.; Ed Tromczynski, president and COO of PlanSoft Corp., Twinsburg, Ohio; Betsy Bondurant, CMP, associate director, meeting planning &, Amgen, Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, Nortel Networks, Santa Clara, Calif.
The consolidation conversation revealed a range of challenges to adopting new meeting processes, with more issues tied to intractable corporate cultures than insufficient technology solutions. However, some participants commented that current conditions are encouraging senior executives to support consolidation. “The economy dictates that we do everything that we can,” said Nortel's Pund. “And technology is more pertinent and relevant in this economy.” John Pino agreed: “There's more determination within companies at times like this.”
Meeting Visions was developed by the Maui Economic Development Board and is co-sponsored by the Wailea resorts, including Grand Wailea Hotel & Spa, Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort, Outrigger Wailea Hotel & Conference Center, The Four Seasons Maui, and the Fairmont Kea Lani, as well as Corporate Meetings & Incentives, the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and StarCite/RegWeb.